The DaPonte String Quartet’s March program, “Fatal Attraction,” the final concert of which is today at the Presbyterian Church in Topsham at 3 p.m., is a fascinating exploration of two musical approaches to Freud’s theme of Eros and Thanatos.

It couples Schubert’s Romantic treatment of the subject in “Death and the Maiden” with Alban Berg’s passionately despairing “Lyric Suite” of 1927.

The “Lyric Suite” was featured in Elliott Schwartz’s recent lecture on the uses of letters and numbers in music and is as full of arcane clues and references as “The DaVinci Code.”

It was discovered only recently that the final movement of six, “Largo Desolato,” is based on a poem by Baudelaire, “De Profundis Clamavi.” It’s basically a song setting without words. The annotated manuscript with the poem was given by the composer to the woman for whom it was written, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin.

In keeping with the hothouse and somewhat incestuous atmosphere of fin de siecle Vienna, both Berg and his mistress seemed to have been happily married and realized that their affair was going nowhere. Berg’s wife, Helene, who outlived him by 40 years, claimed that Berg needed the “unfulfilled” affair “for the purposes of his art.” That was standard issue in the circle of artists, musicians, writers, architects, philosophers, linguists, psychologists and physicists of pre-war Vienna.

The intellectual ferment of Vienna was the breeding ground for almost all 20th-century developments in the arts and sciences. It was also a rebellion against the bourgeoise, more serious than those in London or Paris because social conservatism there was even more entrenched and stifling.

Berg’s “Altenberg Lieder,” based on postcards from a popular newspaper columnist, was the subject of a larger and more serious riot than the one that met Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in Paris, and the composer never heard the work performed again.

Fuchs-Robettin, by the way, was the sister of novelist Franz Werfel, with whom Alma Mahler had an affair. Her first affair was with composer Alexander Zemlinski, the teacher of Arnold Schoenberg, who taught the technique of 12-tone composition to Berg. That was Vienna.

To get back to the “Lyric Suite,” it is composed entirely of tone rows, various sequences of all 12 notes in an octave, not one of which is to be repeated until all 12 notes have been played.

Incorporated in some of the tone rows is a motif based on the letters ABHF (the “H” is possible in German), combining the initials of the composer and his beloved. Berg’s “fateful” number was 23, and Hanna’s 10. These numbers are used to determine both tempi and the number of bars in a section.

Berg’s greatest technical feat in the quartet is to quote the “Liebestod” theme from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” without deviating from 12-tone technique. He also manages, in the fifth movement, a reference to the “Lyric Symphony” of Zemlinky, to whom the work is dedicated.

One movement, according to DaPonte violist Kristen Monke, ends with the notation “Forget about it,” after which the tone row goes in reverse.

The most remarkable thing about the “Lyric Suite” is that in spite of numerology, mystical allusion and dodecaphonic methods of composition, it is, like the “Altenberg Lieder,” supremely beautiful music and one of the 20th century’s masterpieces of string quartet writing.

Christopher Hyde is a Pownal writer and musician. He can be reached at:

[email protected]